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The Umbilical Cord and Common Issues

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Jen Mallari · Updated Jul 14, 2022

    The Umbilical Cord and Common Issues

    An umbilical cord is the long tube-like structure that connects a mother to her baby in pregnancy. It is responsible for delivering food to and from the placenta, as well as blood, nutrients, and oxygen. It also removes waste from the fetus and back into the placenta, and then to the mother’s circulation so it can be eliminated. 

    The Umbilical Cord: What Is It? 

    There are multiple blood vessels in the umbilical cord: one is a vein and the other two are arteries, and each plays an important role in the fetus’ overall health. The vein carries food and oxygen from the placenta and gets sent to the baby. The two arteries are responsible for transporting waste from the baby and into the placenta. And finally, this waste is eliminated through the mother’s blood and the kidneys. 

    In addition, the umbilical cord has this gelatinous connective mucus tissue, which is responsible for protecting the blood vessels. 

    Possible Complications 

    There are several complications that involve the umbilical cord, there are some that do not cause any problems, and then there are others that cause problems in the baby’s health. 

    Below are the possible complications:

    Umbilical Cord Prolapse 

    This pertains to when the birth cord finds its way into the birth canal (vagina) ahead of labor and in birth. Once this happens, the cord may get squeezed, making it hard for oxygen to pass through and travel to the baby. The probability of umbilical cord prolapse is 1 out of 300 births. 

    Babies are at risk of umbilical cord prolapse if they present the following: 

    • The baby is born too early
    • Babies that weigh lower than five pounds are at risk of umbilical cord prolapse. 
    • The cord’s length exceeds that of a normal one. 
    • If the mother is having twins or more babies
    • If the baby is in a breech position, they are at risk of umbilical cord prolapse. Breech position means the baby is coming out during labor and birth with its feet first and not the head. 
    • If amniotic fluids exceed the normal count then that would put the baby at risk. 
    • If the membranes are ruptured, the baby is at risk of having umbilical cord prolapse.

    This condition does not usually cause any problems to a baby. However, if the baby’s cord is being pinched and their supply of oxygen is cut short, that could result in them being stillborn. 

    Once a mother experiences an unusual feeling in her vagina after her water breaks, she must seek medical help at once and have her baby checked. Doctors would start to check the baby’s pulse and perform a pelvic exam on the mother. By doing these, the doctor will have the opportunity to remove pressure from the birth cord. 

    If the umbilical cord appears to be pinched, the mother will have to undergo surgical birth.

    Single Umbilical Artery

    From the name itself, this condition happens when the number of arteries are incomplete. The probability of this condition is 5 in 100 multiple pregnancies and 1 in 100 singleton pregnancies (when the mother only gives birth to one baby). 

    The cause of only having one umbilical artery is unknown. But if babies have this condition, they may experience more health problems in the future. Some of the health problems that these babies may encounter affect the heart, kidney, digestion, and kidney.

    Vasa Previa

    It is a rare condition where blood vessels in the umbilical cord cross the narrow end of the uterus called the cervix. The cord does not protect the three blood vessels so there is a tendency to tear during labor. This condition rarely occurs at birth.

    Nuchal Cord

    A nuchal cord is when an umbilical cord gets wrapped around a baby’s neck. Doctors can see the nuchal cord via ultrasound and loosen and remove it from the baby’s neck during labor and birth. Babies who are born may have issues regarding their heart rates. But usually, the babies are born healthy.

    Umbilical Cord Knots

    This happens in the early stages of pregnancy where the umbilical cord gets knotted inside the womb due to the baby moving around inside the womb. This occurrence is most prevalent when umbilical cords are long and when pregnancies involve having identical twins. This is because twins share only one amniotic sac, so the possibility of entanglement is higher. 

    If for instance the knot gets pulled too tight, that would restrict the flow of oxygen to the babies causing a stillbirth.

    Umbilical Cord Cyst

    Cysts are uncommon complications in the umbilical cord and it only happens in 1 out of 100 pregnancies. The cysts are sacs of fluid located in the cord itself. Doctors can detect these ultrasound, often during the first trimester. It usually does not have any negative effect on the baby when it happens during the first trimester. 

    Pregnant women must always observe what they feel before and during giving birth. For any concerns, always consult your doctor. 

    Learn more about Pregnancy Problems here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Jen Mallari · Updated Jul 14, 2022

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